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Cannabis Act Offences

The Charge

The newly enacted Cannabis Act provides a framework for legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The goals of the Act are to restrict youth access to cannabis and to provide for the legal production and distribution of cannabis while promoting safe use and public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis. The Act imposes serious criminal penalties on people who break the law, especially those who import or export cannabis illegally, produce cannabis illegally or provide cannabis to youth.

What is legal?

Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 19 or older (in British Columbia) may legally:

Purchase limited amounts of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil or cannabis plants from authorized retailers;
Possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form;
Consume cannabis in locations authorized by local jurisdictions;
Grow up to 4 plants per household;
Share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent with other adults.

What remains illegal?

All possession, production and distribution outside the legal system of the Cannabis Act remains illegal. The Act sets out various offences for “Criminal Activities,” with up to a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

To protect youth, the Cannabis Act prohibits selling cannabis to anyone under 18 years of age. Giving or selling cannabis to youth or involving a youth to commit a cannabis related offence (such as distribution) are punishable by jail.

Possession of illicit cannabis is unlawful under the Act. Illicit cannabis is cannabis obtained from a source other than a government or other licenced cannabis retailer.

Ticketable Offences

The Cannabis Act, under section 51, sets out that for the more minor cannabis offences, police may commence proceedings by issuing a ticket and a summons to attend court. The types of ticketable offences include minor contraventions such as:

  • Possessing more than 30 but less than 50 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent;
  • Possessing up to 50 grams of illicit cannabis;
  • Distributing or selling up to 50 grams of cannabis;
  • Possessing 5 or 6 cannabis plants.

The fine for most Cannabis Act ticketable offences is $200.00. Of note, if a person pays the fine within the time period set out by regulation, the person, under s. 52 is found guilty but deemed to have received an absolute discharge.

Criminal Offences

Other than the ticketable offences for minor cannabis offences, the Cannabis Act calls for the criminal prosecutions in cases where, for example, the person is charged with:

  • Possessing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a public place;
  • Distributing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent);
  • Distributing cannabis to an individual under 19 years of age (in British Columbia);
  • Exporting cannabis;
  • Producing, cultivating, propagating or harvesting cannabis in excess of 6 plants without authorization.

Recent Successes

R. v. S.C. – Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was credible evidence that would meet the charge approval standard.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided information to the investigating officer that led the investigator to conclude that our client was not chargeable with a criminal offence. No charge approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. C.K. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Forcible Confinement (domestic).
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our through, whether it was in the public interest for our client to be sentenced to a criminal record.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown to proceed only on the assault charge and, after hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

R.M. vs. Superintendent of Motor Vehicles

Charge: 90 Day Immediate Roadside prohibition.
Issue: Whether the police report established, on balance, that our client had refused to provide a breath sample during a roadside impaired driving investigation.
Result: The adjudicator agreed with Mr. Mines' submissions that our client's evidence was more reliable than the evidence set out in the Police Report to the Superintendent. The 90 day driving prohibition was overturned and our client was ruled eligible to resume driving.

R. vs. E.W. – Fort Nelson Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a criminal conviction.
Result: Upon reviewing the allegations, Mr. Mines made representations to Crown counsel resulting in Crown agreeing that there was no reasonable prospect of convicting our client. No charges were approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. H.K. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault Peace Officer; Mischief Under $5000.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to  persuade Crown counsel to allow our client into the Alternative Measures Program and to enter a stay of proceedings on both charges upon our client completing the program. No criminal record.

R. vs. R.S. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Breach of Probation (from weapons charge).
Issue: Whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the prosecution of our client who had failed to complete a course of court ordered counselling.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to steer our client through an equivalent course of counselling. Upon completion, Crown counsel stayed the proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.P. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Mischief Causing Danger to Life.
Issue: Given the medical evidence Mr. Gauthier provided to Crown counsel, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. R.A. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Breaking & Entering; Unlawful Confinement; Assault.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for the prosecution to continue against our client, a U.S. citizen who was in Canada on a visitor's visa.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on all charges upon our client agreeing to a Deportation Order. No criminal record.

R. vs. P.N. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Dangerous Driving Causing Death. Issue: Whether Crown could prove that our client had the necessary intent to prove that she was guilty of the criminal charge. Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed under the Motor Vehicle Act rather than the Criminal Code. After hearing Mr. Mines'  submissions, the Court sentenced our client to 60 days to be served on weekends. The Crown had originally sought a sentence in the range of 2 years.

R. vs. L.A. – New Westminster Provincial Court

Charge: Breach of Probation (from domestic assault charge).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to prosecute our client for failing to report and complete counselling.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to guide our client back onto an alternative course of rehabilitation and persuaded Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. M.K. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charges: Uttering Threats; Extortion.
Issue: Given the age of the charges and the rehabilitative steps our client had taken, whether a jail sentence was appropriate.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to seek a non custodial sentence. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a suspended sentence and placed him on probation for 16 months. No jail.

R. vs. K.A. – Western Communities Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issues: Given the information we provided to Crown counsel regarding the complainant's past unlawful behaviour toward our client, whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
Result: As a result of the information we provided, Crown counsel withdrew the charge. No further bail restrictions. No criminal record.

The Defence

Because the Cannabis Act retains the power to regulate and punish for “criminal activity” associated with unauthorized distribution and possession of cannabis, criminal law defences will continue to apply to cannabis prosecutions.

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search. As experienced drug lawyers, we will analyze the actions of investigating officers to test whether police have, in fact, conducted a lawful search, based on reasonable grounds. Where police overreach their authority, and conduct a search based on a mere hunch or suspicion we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search excluded at trial. Without the admission of the cannabis that was unlawfully obtained, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Cannabis was not for the purpose of distribution or sale

In order to prove that possession was for the purpose of distribution or sale, the Crown will usually bring a police expert to court who will testify that the circumstances of the seizure, along with the packaging and weight of the cannabis tend to prove that the cannabis was intended to be distributed. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert opinion that the circumstances of the cannabis seizure are only consistent with distribution and not simple possession. In many cases we have succeeded in negotiating possession for distribution charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without cannabis directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and cannabis is found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for distribution but none of the cannabis is found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the cannabis in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting cannabis offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.